Learn How to Launch and Stand Up on a Paddleboard

So- you’ve done your research, figured out the right board and gear, and you’re ready to take it out for a spin. Or maybe you’ve just found a good rental place, and you’re excited to get out on the water and see if this sport is a good fit for you. Either way, we have you covered. Here’s how to launch your board and get up on your feet on your first try.

Step 1 - Prep

Paddleboarding isn’t exactly a get-in-the-car-and-go kind of sport. Because water is involved and comes with its own inherent risks, it’s important to be prepared. 

  • Check the forecast. It might look clear now, but just double-check to make sure there isn’t a thunderstorm rolling in right around the time you’re hitting open water. 
  • If you’re going out on the sea, check tidal and current conditions.
  • Make sure you have all your gear (which depends on the person but can include): life preserver jacket or belt, water bottle (if you’re bringing one), leash, sunscreen, hat and/or sunglasses, drybag for your phone or towel, wetsuit, paddle, board, and pump. This is still important if you’re renting instead of taking out your own gear!
  • Adjust your paddle to the correct height: it should be about 6” above your head, or about the width of your spread hand, thumb to pinky, from the crown of your head to the top of the T-grip. If your paddle is too short or too long, it can increase your instability.

Step 2 - Location, Location, Location

You want to choose the right location for your first time, so don’t go for the crowded spot that everyone’s been telling you about! You want to feel comfortable, relaxed, and in control, not rushed, jostled, or “in the way” of others (which is in quotations because the water is for everyone, no matter what some folks believe). 

If you don't have a private dock, you’ll have to use a public access launch point. Park and unload your gear, and if you’re on a river, go a little downstream from the main launch spot. You don’t want to go upstream because then the current will just immediately pull you into others once your launch! If launching onto a lake or pond, find an eddy or less busy area without other folks around. It’s not recommended to launch directly into surf your first time out!

Step 3 - Board in the Water

Make sure you have all the gear with you before you go into the water! This might sound obvious, but you really don’t want to have to backtrack to your car or leave anything behind on the bank.

Secure your leash to your calf right below your knee, or to your ankle. Then, holding your board by its handle, walk in until your knees are submerged. This is to make sure the fins and the entire board have enough space to rest comfortably in the water after your body weight is on top, but you aren’t so deep that you don’t have control.

Lay the board on the water with the nose pointed out, and the fins toward the shore. Lay your paddle down the middle of the board, or along the edge farthest from you. 

Step 4 - Get on!

Hold the “rails” or edges on the board firmly with both hands, and face towards the nose of the board. Place your closest knee towards the middle or far side of the board if you can reach it, and use your hands to stabilize the board as you bring your second knee onto the board.

You ideally want to have your knees on either side of the handle, about hip-distance apart, as that is the most stable part of the board. If you’re in a very calm area and feel comfortable, you can just float for a moment to get the feel for your balance. 

When you’re ready, transition to “prone” position and lie down onto your belly. You can leave the paddle on the edge of the board if it feels secure, or bring it just underneath your chest so your body weight holds it onto the board and it can’t fall into the water or float away.

Paddle away from the shore with your hands. You want to get to an area of the water where you can practice standing up in enough depth that there’s no risk of injury if you fall. Depending on the body of water, this could be 20 feet or 100 feet or more. If there is a breeze, try to keep it at your back instead of fighting to paddle into it.

Step 5 - Get on up!

When you’ve reached an area with a safe depth, transition back to the kneeling position, and bring your paddle to rest longways between your knees. When you’ve found your balance, lean forward and grip the outer edges of the board again for stability. You could also lay your palms flat on the board’s surface if that feels more natural to you. 

You want to get up slowly but controlled. Don’t “pop” up like folks are instructed to do on a surfboard, but also don’t take too long or it will mess up your balance. Step onto one foot, then the other, with your hands down and grounding you so you’re in a sort of squat. Your feet should be where your knees were, on either side of the handle about hip’s width apart. 

If you’re feeling sturdy, lift your hands up to use them for balance, keep your chest lifted and gaze ahead (not at your feet!), and stand up slowly. If you want to transition a little differently, try extending your legs with your booty in the air and your knees bent, and then lift your hands and come to standing when it feels right. Keep your knees slightly bent to be able to respond to the ever-changing surface of the water as you move across it. You did it!

Tips and Tricks

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind for your first time out:

  • Go Barefoot. I know, algae are yucky and natural bodies of water are diverse ecosystems, but you’ll likely feel much more secure barefoot than in shoes or water sandals. You want to really feel the board and the movement of the water beneath your feet for the first time, to teach your body the language of this new activity. If you wear shoes, you may find that you feel you have less control, will instinctively respond by over-gripping with your feet, and perhaps cramping up. 
  • 32” Board Width. If possible, go with a wider board for the first time for more stability. If you are a taller person, maybe go even wider! This isn’t necessary, but it can help you feel more comfortable. 
  • Go For a Swim Beforehand. In order to feel relaxed and comfortable, take away a potential worry! If you do a quick swim beforehand, your mind will be energized and your body will be acclimated to the temperature of the water, so you won’t be afraid of falling off and into the water.
  • Know the Code. In the event that you become stranded or need assistance for another reason, know the international symbol for distress. While either standing or on your knees, wave your outstretched arms over your head at the same time, crossing and uncrossing. This will signal to other watercraft that you need help. You shouldn’t need to use this the first time, but safety is very important, and water can be unpredictable. 

  • Happy Paddling!